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Review: Gcast Podcasting Service

Want to be a radio star? Gcast offers beginners the chance to try out basic podcasting for free.

InformationWeek Staff

March 16, 2006

5 Min Read

Since its inception, podcasting has had the potential to bring broadcasting to the masses. However, it hasn't yet achieved the popularity of blogging, partly because creating a podcast requires a certain technical understanding of hardware, software, and RSS publishing.



Gcast lets you record your own podcast over the phone. Click image to enlarge.

Gcast has simplified the matter by building a free service that makes publishing a podcast as easy as making a phone call. The service is not flawless by any means, but it is easy to use and allows anyone with a telephone to get their podcasting feet wet.

Getting Started
You start by establishing an account and creating a PIN for your phone number on the Gcast Web site. You call Gcast's 800 number, enter your PIN, listen to the instructions, and record your podcast. You can then re-record, save to your Gcast account for further review, or broadcast the podcast directly to your podcast channel (the channel is automatically created along with your account), without ever touching a computer.

Creating these voice-only podcasts is certainly simple, but there are trade-offs. You have no power to edit the recording, other than recording it again — not a trivial limitation if you are at all concerned about quality. Furthermore, when you play back the recording on the Gcast Web site, you may find electronic noise in the recording or a distinct sound when the recording ends, another drawback of using the phone. Still, you can’t beat it for ease of use or for putting together a short podcast quickly and easily— just don’t expect broadcast quality.

Adding Tunes To Voice
Once you have recorded one or more voice-based podcasts, you can work with them in Gcast's Playlist Manager, where you can mix your recordings with music from Gcast's sister site Garageband.com.

Garageband is geared toward promoting independent music by offering free MP3 downloads of music samples; the selection includes rock, punk, rap, comedy, jazz, Latin, country, and other genres. In fact, Gcast was originally conceived as a project to build an army of amateur disc jockeys to play music available on Garageband. You don’t have to use it this way (and developers have found that some people use Gcast to record podcasts without ever adding the Garageband.com content), but if you want to add music, it's nice to be able to do so.

However, Gcast could do a better job of integrating the two sites. They have a dramatically different look and feel, and it might confuse users when they move between the sites — especially since you can end up publishing your podcast from either Gcast or Garageband.com. What’s more, although the functions of features such as the Master Playlist and the Publishing page are identical, the pages have different formatting across the two sites.

I also experienced difficulties moving songs from Garageband.com to the Master Playlist, which prompted an e-mail to technical support, one which was never answered. It was only after I contacted the developer directly (not something that typical users have the ability to do), that we were able to figure out that the problem was related to a setting in Zone Alarm on my machine, which was blocking third-party cookies. (Third-party cookie blocking must be disabled because the service moves across the two different Web sites.) Publishing Your Playlist
After you have compiled your podcast recordings into the Master Playlist, you can create a playlist that mixes your podcasts and music in any combination you wish. This is a straightforward process. You simply select the tracks you want and click the copy button. Unfortunately, the music editing is as rudimentary as the podcast editing — because you can only play a whole song, you can’t add a music snippet or fade in and out between music and voice, which might be nice to do during the introduction and as the podcast is ending.



Gcast's association with Garageband.com lets users add free MP3 tracks to their podcasts. Click image to enlarge.

To publish your playlist, you move to the Publish page, where you can give your podcast a title and add descriptive text. Click the Publish button and Gcast moves your podcast to your channel page, which you can listen to it manually; if you have subscribers, the podcast is distributed automatically. Normally, this process can be confusing for many potential podcasters; Gcast takes any pain away by handling the entire process seamlessly without user intervention.

However, it is here that the interface gets a bit muddled. The channel page appears to be geared to subscribers, rather than publishers. It doesn't only include a way to listen to your podcast (along with buttons to edit or delete it), but also features information on how to subscribe through various outlets such as iTunes and Yahoo!. I found this confusing —since I had just published the podcast, I wasn't clear on why the developers were presenting subscription information to me, the publisher.

The channel page also offers an RSS feed for the page, and HTML code that you can copy to place a player for your podcasts on your blog or Web site. It's a nice idea, but the service should provide clearer instructions.

Gcast is a service with a lot of potential. It makes it incredibly easy to record your podcast, create a channel, and make your podcasts available to subscribers, but the developers need to make the interface less confusing and the whole process more streamlined. Gcast may not give you the quality of NPR, but users who have wanted to dabble in podcasting, and have been afraid of the technical complexity around podcast production, will find a lot to like about this service.

Gcast Podcasting Service
GarageBand Records
www.gcast.com
Price: Free
Summary: Gcast puts podcasting within reach of anyone with a telephone without requiring any technical expertise whatsoever, but the simplicity comes with a tradeoff — no editing tools

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